The Role of Art and Music Therapy in Addiction Treatment

More than 40 million adults in the United States have a substance abuse or alcohol use disorder. While traditional addiction treatments work well for many, alternative therapies may be worth adding into a more traditional treatment program. Music therapy and art therapy are two alternative treatments that are often used to assist those seeking sobriety. Because these alternative therapies are relatively new, research is ongoing into their effectiveness. In this article, we’ll explore:

  • Do art and music therapy actually work?
  • What are the advantages of trying these alternative treatments for those who want to live a drug-and alcohol-free life?
  • What are the benefits of trying these types of treatments?

Read on for more.

Art and Music as Alternative Therapies

Societies have practiced various forms of therapy to treat mental health informally throughout history. In fact, it was not until the late 1890’s that what we now know as “talk therapy” was pioneered by Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud. While the first references to music therapy date back to the 1780s, it did not become a formal clinical profession until the 1940s. Around that same time, the term “art therapy” was coined to describe British artist Adrian Hill’s method of treating the mental health of tuberculosis patients.

Because music and art therapies are a relatively new practice, there is skepticism about their usefulness as treatment for mental health, substance use, or alcohol use disorders. Partially because of its recent history, there is a lack of research surrounding these therapies. The studies we have, alongside anecdotal reports, show that art therapy can be an effective treatment for people suffering from mental health disorders or developmental disabilities. According to a 2009 study, art and music therapy can help motivate clients and combat ambivalence when used with a more traditional therapy method (in this case, Motivational Enhancement Therapy).

A 2005 study showed that a similar result can be achieved using music therapy. More comprehensive studies are needed to determine exactly how art and music therapy help treat SUD and AUD, but for the time being, experts say there is “…a positive and significant relationship between requiring 12-step meetings as part of treatment and the use of both art therapy and music therapy. This finding supports previous research that links the use of art and music therapy with a 12-step model.”

Art and music therapy can be used to treat a variety of mental and emotional disorders, including eating disorders, addiction, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

These forms of therapy complement traditional psychotherapy and help patients cope with emotional distress, mental illness, and addiction by leveraging art and music as tools. These therapies allow patients to communicate and express themselves in a nonverbal manner.

Art therapy uses visual, art-based projects, while music therapy employs sound and songs to help patients develop positive feelings and associations. Both treatment methods support clients in expressing themselves creatively, working through problems, and managing their emotions in a healthy way.

At Lake Avenue, we conduct art therapy in a variety of ways.  An art therapist may use creative processes such as:

  • Collage-making and mixed media
  • Coloring
  • Creative writing and journaling
  • Digital photography
  • Drawing, doodling, and scribbling
  • Finger painting
  • Sculptures and working with clay
  • Textiles

In music therapy, your therapist may encourage you to use different instruments, move to music, or listen to music while viewing specific images. You may write and sing songs and communicate different feelings and emotions through music. There are many kinds of music therapy, including:

  • Analytical music therapy
  • Benenzon music therapy
  • Bonny method of guided imagery and music
  • Cognitive-behavioral Therapy with music (CBT-M)
  • Community music therapy
  • Dalcroze eurhythmics
  • Kodaly
  • Neurologic music therapy (NMT)
  • Orff-Schulwerk
  • Vocal psychotherapy

In art and music art therapy sessions, the therapist usually helps the client to explore issues rather than immediately offering advice. The therapist gently encourages the client to express themselves in a non-verbal way. Sometimes this expression takes place on paper, or on canvas. Other times, self-expression happens through singing or while moving to music.

Art therapists have received specialized training to provide this type of therapy. Professionals seeking endorsement can seek certification from the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). It is vital to work with a professional art therapist.

Unfortunately, many people claim to practice art therapy but do not have the necessary qualifications. Like an art therapist, a music therapist should also have credentials, specifically an MT-BC (Music Therapist – Board Certified) through the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). Having accreditations helps to ensure that your provider adheres to standards and conducts themselves professionally and ethically.

While definitive research is still being conducted, many people have benefited from art and music therapy. Most experts agree that using these therapies to supplement traditional treatment yields the best results. There is evidence that both of these therapies can assist people struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, smoking, and even eating disorders.

Benefits of Art and Music Therapy For Recovery

When used in combination with traditional addiction treatment, art and music therapy can effectively reduce cravings, negative thoughts, and other triggers. Art and music therapy offer a new approach to addiction therapy by providing a new way to think, feel and behave. People struggling with addiction often benefit greatly from art and music therapy because they can express their feelings and inner thoughts in a healthy, nonjudgmental way. You don’t need to be a fantastic artist or play an instrument to participate.

People recovering from trauma can also benefit from art and music therapy. Clients can explore their traumatic memories through the visual arts in a safe and supportive environment. Participating in the arts allows trauma survivors to release pent-up emotions, learn new coping skills, and process their experiences in new ways.

Both art and music therapy can be helpful when a client is averse to participating in traditional types of treatment. A shy client may open up with art or music therapy. Someone who had a bad experience with another provider may find relief through trying something new. Art and music can also be a less threatening approach for many people. Patients in art or music therapy may experience:

  • A reduction in addiction-related stress and anxiety
  • Increased creativity
  • Social integration and personal growth
  • New insight into past experiences
  • The ability to express themselves in non-verbal ways
  • Deepening feelings of self-awareness
  • Improved concentration
  • Helping people remember traumatic events
  • Emotional support
  • Increased confidence
  • Improved coordination
  • Stress relief
  • Feelings of relaxation

Art as a means for expression allows for a complete emotional experience, or the ability to show and understand emotions simultaneously. A patient participating in art therapy may learn to express themselves in a way they couldn’t before. Music may allow those struggling with substance abuse to come to terms with their feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger, and guilt surrounding substance abuse.

Art and music therapy have proven to be effective ways of treating addiction and helping patients lead happier lives and achieve sobriety. When used as part of a holistic treatment plan, they are solution-focused treatments that address the needs of each patient, a key part of any successful rehabilitation program.

Almost 40% of drug and alcohol treatment programs now offer art therapy, and about 15% offer music therapy. It’s important to remember that everyone’s addiction is different, and no single treatment works for everyone. However, trying something new may lead you down a path of self–discovery.

At Lake Avenue Recovery, we are proud to offer both. Our Expressive Arts Therapy program allows our clients to express themselves in new ways. We understand how critical it is to treat each individual according to their unique needs. We provide a variety of different interventions to aid you in exploring your mind, body, and spirit while on the road to recovery. Art therapy’s healing power plays an important role in successful addiction treatment and long-term recovery. Reach out today to get started: 855-923-2354